Okwui Okpokwasili, here in her Poor People's TV Room, was doing her laundry when she learned she was receiving a MacArthur Fellowship. Photo by Mena Brunette of xmbphotography, Courtesy Okpokwasili
Okwui Okpokwasili just got $625,000 richer. The MacArthur Foundation announced its 2018 class of Fellows today, and the genre-defying choreographer was the only dance artist included alongside scientists, activists and writers. According to The New York Times, she got the call telling her the news on her way to the laundromat.
Michelle Dorrance has just returned from Stockholm, where she was teaching without pause for much of the previous week. Before that, she had a pit stop in New York, a quick gig in Los Angeles and performances in New Hampshire. "It was relentless," she says in a huskier-than-usual voice, owing to a cold. The breakneck itinerary is an apt illustration of what an in-demand artist she has become, especially since receiving a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship in 2015.
While that recognition may have introduced her to a new audience, dance fans and critics were already swooning for her sophisticated musicality, thrilling ensemble arrangements and layered choreography that hits a wide range of emotional notes.
Yet Dorrance would rather not be the subject of this profile. Though a proud ambassador for her art form and always eager to promote it, she resists the false narrative that often accompanies stories about her of a so-called tap revival, and the impulse to identify a "lone ranger" to represent it. "Tap's always been around. There's always been brilliant artists, it's just not in the spotlight," she says. "It was the same conversation when I was a teenager in the '90s." (Then, Savion Glover, with whom Dorrance has performed, was the "It" tapper.)